Going out to eat is one of my favorite things to do with my family...especially when it means we're going to The Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill, or Carrabba's. The Olive Garden is by far my favorite! Maybe it's because the atmosphere is more family-friendly there than at other Italian restaurants, or maybe it's the salad and breadsticks. Either way, I'm not sure why, but I've always had a crazy obsession with Italian food! And the funny thing is, I always order the same thing...chicken parmesan. How can you go wrong with chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese (and a side of linguini of course)?
So the other day, I couldn't decide what to make. It was a Monday afternoon, and I was tired from running around all day. Between Sydney's school, Taylor's new preschool (which she started this week), and my PTO projects, I was exhausted! The last thing I wanted to do was spend all afternoon in the kitchen cooking (and cleaning up afterward). What could I make with chicken? Let me rephrase...what could I make with chicken that Jeremy and the kids would eat without saying, "chicken again"? It seems like we eat chicken 5 times a week...
Since it was up to me, I was thinking Italian. Italian Chicken and Cheese it was! It's like chicken parmesan without all the mess. One casserole dish and two bowls is all it took. It was easy to make, easy to clean up, and super delicious! Well, and I got the Italian fix I was craving. Even my picky 8-year-old, Sydney, asked for seconds!
While the oven was heating, I prepped the onion and parsley. No need to get fancy...a quick chop works just fine.
Next, prepare your chicken. I would strongly recommend using boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders (especially if you want shorter cooking time). However, if you don't have any, it's ok to use regular breast halves. To help with the cooking time, and to be sure the chicken cooks evenly throughout, I typically butterfly my chicken breasts. If you've never done it, it's like slicing the breast lengthways without completely cutting the chicken into two pieces. It should open like a book and lay flat when you're done.
After you've prepared the chicken, place it into an ungreased casserole dish for baking.
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, onion, and salt and pepper. Your sauce is ready! I love that you don't need to cook up an elaborate sauce, and this one tastes so good that no one will ever know...
Spoon the sauce onto the uncooked chicken.
Be sure you coat all of the chicken in sauce - that way it cooks evenly. After you're done with the sauce, put the casserole dish in the oven, and bake it for 30 to 40 minutes.
While you wait for the chicken to cook, combine the breadcrumbs, butter, and parsley in a small bowl. Set aside for later. It's so much easier than breading chicken!
After 30 to 40 minutes, check the chicken for doneness. I cut one of the breasts in half so I could check the color and texture. Once the pink color is gone, the chicken's ready! You can also insert a fork into the center of each piece to check for tenderness. The chicken should be soft and moist.
After checking the chicken, I flipped each piece and gave the sauce a quick stir. Ahhh, it smells so good!
Before putting the casserole dish back in the oven, sprinkle the mozzerella cheese on top. The cheesier, the better for me!
Next, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top, and put the casserole back into the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. When the cheese is bubbly and the breadcrumbs have browned, it's ready!
I served this dish with linguine and garlic toast, and it was awesome! Plus, I felt good about not spending $50-60 on dinner at Olive Garden. The entire dinner (including pasta and bread) cost about $12, and it fed a family of five. I also had it for lunch for two days afterward. No complaints from me! Love it, love it, love it...I'll be making this recipe at least once a month!
I hope you will want to try this easy and low-cost main dish, too. Remember to rate and review this recipe, Italian Chicken & Cheese.
Come back on Thursday - Becky will share a great recipe for bars using the fruit of the season -- Apples!